Author: Hiroshi Iino
Kanazawa Institute of Technology, Japan
Presented at the OEC International Conference on Ethics in Engineering and Computer Science, March 1999
Although engineering ethics classes at technical institutes are common in the USA, they have been rare in Japan, and were very rare in 1996 when I was asked by the Kanazawa Institute of Technology to design, implement and teach a class on engineering ethics for undergraduate students (1).
The class was named as the "Society and Engineers" and more than 2500 students finished the class in 5 years. In teaching engineering ethics, the most effective way would be to utilize case studies of, say, "hero" engineers, engineering related accidents or conversely, unethical acts of engineers. Since Japanese society were confident of the ethical conduct of engineers and Japanese culture that does not generally expect individual heroes, acting on their own, to produce good outcomes, stories of specific heroic conduct by engineers are rare in the literature. Thus I chose at the beginning of the class to focus on two cases in nuclear energy development by a governmental organization that exemplify the influence of engineering failure and unethical acts. I chose these two because the facts of those cases have been fairly well disclosed and analyzed and because the cases attracted wide public attention in Japan, due to the nature of the project. But in 1999, a more serious accident of atomic criticality occurred in a Japanese company and resulted in death of two workers. I added this case to the previous two. The analysis of these three cases provides engineering students with many useful lessons.